It occurred to me, as I wrote two recent travelogues, that I’d visited a lot of interesting places in the last few years. I recorded my thoughts and impressions from those journeys on the pages of Twelve Mile Circle. The intent was to describe my adventures while still fresh in my mind. Looking back through many of those pages recently, as a complete body of work, they seemed to have transformed into something more like a diary. I wasn’t prescient as they unfolded at the time, just looking for topics that didn’t require a lot of advance research. Travel stories were easy to draft and offered a break from the usual fare of geo-oddities that sometimes took hours to write.
I couldn’t help getting a little nostalgic as the pages brought back events that had already started receding from memory. I couldn’t believe how quickly years had passed. I wanted to create a catalog, probably more for myself than for my faithful readers, so that I could always stroll through those past haunts with ease. This article was the result.
Wisconsin’s Point of Beginning
The concept began with a family trip to see the in-laws during the earliest days of 12MC, only a few months after I began writing it. The trip coincided with severe flooding in the area. The first travelogue on the site sprang organically from those events in a series of four articles.
Later we returned to Wisconsin and focused on the Great River Road along the Mississippi River. There I crossed into my 1000th county in my never-ending County Counting quest. I was up to 1,255 counties as of the time I published this article (June 2015) so I’ve progressed well. However I have to look at it realistically and I don’t think that I will be able to capture every remaining county. I’m moving too slowly.
Later that summer we traveled to Maine. It would set precedence for an annual family tradition: that summer and each subsequent summer (excepting one) we’ve picked a different state as a family and then spent a week exploring it.
That was fine although I was probably more excited about the state we selected that year, Alaska. I’d been to Alaska a couple of times before and I wanted to try a different corner. We rented a house at a central point on the Kenai Peninsula in the tiny town of Cooper Landing (map) and radiated out from there on day trips. We experienced only one small slice of the massive Alaskan landmass although we saw it in depth. I’d gladly return.
The Tropical Border Between France and the Netherlands on St. Martin/Maarten
We don’t go to the beach ordinarily. I’m too restless and my wife sunburns too easily. Yet, a trip to the Caribbean during early Spring without any kids sounded downright attractive. I selected St. Martin / Maarten because it had an international border running through it. Isn’t that how everyone chooses a tropical vacation destination?
We let our older son pick the state in 2012 and he selected Oregon. That was an excellent choice. I’d been to Oregon’s beautiful coastline several times so I decided to focus on the dry, hot eastern side of the Cascades this time. I also threw-in a couple of days in Washington for good measure. We spent most of the time near Bend, Oregon. It may have had something to do with the large concentration of breweries and brewpubs found there.
Then I joined Steve from Connecticut Museum Quest on a once-in-a-lifetime journey through an incredible array of Connecticut geography extremes that may never be equaled again. Steve, has it really been three years already?
The Dust Bowl Adventures marked my first encounter with the Mainly Marathons organization. This was the first race series they’d ever sponsored; five races in five states in five days (now they do even more). The series was designed for people working on 50-state marathon (or half marathon) lists or adding to their lifetime totals. I was a driver for a runner, collecting all sorts of obscure counties while we wandered through unlikely corners where Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico all came in close proximity to each other.
Kentucky was our state of choice that summer for the annual family vacation. We focused on its Appalachian region for the most part. Eastern Kentucky featured spectacular natural beauty along the wooded hills and tumbling brooks.
We signed on for another Mainly Marathons series in 2014, this time along the Mississippi River with races in Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. We never spotted Elvis although we did stop at Graceland.
Then we deviated from our usual pattern and selected Ireland for our family vacation instead of a U.S. state. One branch of my family came from Ireland and we were actually able to meet some of our distant cousins. We covered quite a bit of territory in the southwestern corner.
Eastern Continental Divide: Which Way Will the Water Flow?
The current year may be my finest travel period ever. I began with some healthy exercise in April when I completed a four-day bicycle ride along the Great Allegheny Passage trail in Pennsylvania and Maryland.
That would probably be enough in a normal year. Fortunately I still have two more trips planned. I’ll spend a week in the vicinity of Asheville, North Carolina later in the Summer. In Autumn we will participate in another Mainly Marathon event, the Center of the Nation Series (six races, six days, six states — North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado). More travelogues will be forthcoming!
Longtime readers of Twelve Mile Circle already know that I have a thing for lighthouses amongst numerous other counting-related quirks. I might have gone overboard on the recent trip to Cape Cod, however. That wasn’t my intent. It seemed as if lighthouses appeared every time I turned around, and the next thing I knew I’d photographed fourteen of them. In my defense it was a particularly lovely stretch of coastline, combining rocky shores, towering bluffs and lots of little towns that grew lighthouses in abundance. Lighthouses don’t appeal to everyone so readers should feel free to skip to the next article or simply scan through the pretty pictures and ignore the text if so inclined. I won’t take it personally.
Boston Light & Graves Light Station
I blamed it on my visit to Fort Revere Park in Hull where I noticed this wonderful alignment of the Boston Light (map) and the Graves Light Station (map) at the entrance to Boston Harbor. Boston was blessed with a wonderful natural harbor although it came at a price, an unfortunate array of dangerous navigational obstacles including islets, shoals and ledges. Even the most skilled navigators needed additional assistance to avoid shipwrecking disasters.
The Boston Light — in the foreground — was one of the earliest such structures built in the United States, first lit in 1783. It was also the last one automated, 1998, and actively staffed by US Coast Guard personnel. The website Lighthouse Friends described the Boston Light as the "ideal American Lighthouse" for its wonderful placement and appearance. The Graves Light Station on the Graves Shelf — in the background — was an added bonus from this particular vantage.
Duxbury Pier Lighthouse
I severely tested the telephoto capabilities on my camera with the Duxbury Pier Lighthouse in Plymouth Harbor (map). The lighthouse was so far away that the image seemed to resemble an Impressionist painting more than a photograph. I couldn’t imagine anyone living on the Duxbury light back when people used to do that, confined solely to a small room with a circular balcony around its perimeter. Nonetheless, someone needed to staff that light to protect mariners from the deadly shoal at Saquish Head. It must have required a special kind of character to willingly endure that level of confinement and isolation.
The local name for this lighthouse was the "Bug Light" although it didn’t appear to resemble a bug to me. It was also the first light built in a style that came to be known as the sparkplug design, a resemblance that seemed more appropriate.
I found myself with an entire day to explore Cape Cod National Seashore as I drove up to Provincetown. The Nauset Light stood above one of the most popular beaches within the seashore so I wondered if it might be crowded. I arrived at the lighthouse (map) at a huge parking lot with an unmanned toll gate, completely vacated, the reward once again for traveling slightly off-season.
This wasn’t the original location. The cliff below Nauset Light continued to erode until it imperiled its foundation. The Coast Guard didn’t plan to preserve it because Nauset Light wasn’t needed anymore. Local residents rallied and funded its relocation farther inland in 1996. That was a much better solution.
Three Sisters Lighthouses
The Three Sisters Lighthouses (map) were said to resemble three women in white dresses and black bonnets, and stood maybe another quarter-mile farther inland from Nauset Light so visiting was easy. The Three Sisters were older structures, having been replaced by Nauset in the 1920’s. They had also been moved farther away from the cliff as it eroded. A marker (photo) explained their history and the reason for such an unusual number of structures on a single spot.
These lights, which replaced brick towers, were part of a network along the treacherous and busy Cape Cod. Ships approaching the southern Cape saw the stationary beams of the twin Chatham Lighthouses. The Three Sisters’ triple light configuration told sailors that they had reached the Cape’s mid-point. Sailors knew they were nearing the Cape’s tip when they saw the single flashing beam of the Highland Light.
Eventually lighthouses were given distinctive flashing patterns so multiple towers were no longer necessary.
My timing guaranteed smaller crowds although there was a downside to that strategy. The Highland Lighthouse wouldn’t open for another week. I could still enjoy the grounds that surrounded it though (map). This was the tallest lighthouse on Cape Cod (66 feet / 20 metres) and continued to serve as an active navigational aid. Like some of the others, it had been moved away from a crumbling cliff in the 1990’s. Apparently one shouldn’t build too close to the eastern shore of Cape Cod.
Highland Lighthouse had one additional historical footnote: Henry David Thoreau, famed as the author of Walden, used to enjoy visiting here in the 1850’s and even wrote an article about his experiences.
Over this bare highland the wind has full sweep. Even in July it blows the wings over the heads of the young turkeys, which do not know enough to head against it; and in gales the doors and windows are blown in, and you must hold on to the light-house to prevent being blown into the Atlantic. They who merely keep out on the beach in a storm in the winter are sometimes rewarded by the Humane Society. If you would feel the full force of a tempest, take up your residence on the top of Mount Washington, or at the Highland Light in Truro.
Wood End Lighthouse
The Wood End Light (map) was the only site that involved any meaningful effort during my journey. I’d spied it from the top of the Pilgrim Monument the previous day. It looked like it might be feasible so I went for a walk early the next morning to see if I could reach it. I stepped carefully across the harbor breakwater, then onto the sand of Provincetown Spit and along a rugged path to the lighthouse itself. I never saw another person. I stopped for a few moments, took photos and walked back. The stroll lasted about an hour each way.
Wood End marked the southernmost point on the Cape Cod hook for approaching mariners. I didn’t make it to the very farthest eastern tip though, a place called Long Point that also featured a lighthouse. That was simply too far for this particular trip. Maybe next time.
Brant Point Light
We left Cape Cod and then headed offshore, first to the island of Nantucket. It was cold and foggy. We’d spent the afternoon at Cisco Brewers a few miles outside of town, bicycling there for an afternoon of live music and beer sampling, then loaded a growler onto a bike for our ride back to town. Somehow we thought it might be a good idea to wander out to Brant Point Lighthouse (map) later that evening. There might have been some alcohol involved. It wasn’t a particularly daunting walk, certainly much easier than my earlier trip to Wood End, just that wiser minds may have remained indoors near a fireplace or something on such a dreary evening.
Hyannis Harbor Lighthouse
I didn’t have much to add about the lighthouse at Hyannis Harbor (map). Apparently it was built around 1849 and it’s privately owned. We passed the light four separate times on ferry rides to and from Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard so I felt an obligation to take a photo.
I really went lighthouse crazy on Martha’s Vineyard. Sites were too far apart for bicycling so we rented a car for the day.
Three of the lights were stewarded by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum including the Edgartown Lighthouse (map). It was right on the edge of Edgartown, thus the name. The museum decorated the lighthouse for special occasions. Ribbons around lantern room during our trip marked Pink and Green weekend; a "celebration of Spring and Mother’s Day"
Gay Head Light
I will attempt to be the first site on the Intertubes to refrain from make a joke at the expense of Gay Head Light in Aquinnah (map). The weather had been wonderful all day except for this far western corner of Martha’s Vineyard. I could barely see the lighthouse. In fact I had to move much closer than I expected simply to take a photo. Unfortunately I couldn’t get any closer because Gay Head Light was in the process of being moved. Sound familiar? Here, just like many of the sites on Cape Cod, eroding cliffs threatened the very existence of an historic structure.
West Chop Light
Other lighthouses stood on Martha Vineyard’s northern shores near Vineyard Haven. The West Chop Light (map) was an active navigational aid. It also included a lighthouse keeper’s quarters that continued to serve as a home for people posted at the Menemsha Coast Guard Station located elsewhere on the island. Access was pretty limited for that reason.
Compare this to the image of Gay Head Light and notice the weather conditions. That was the stark difference between separate parts of the island on the same afternoon.
East Chop Light
However if there was a West Chop Light it made sense that there would also be an East Chop Light (map). That one was located within a small park overlooking the ocean. The lighthouse itself was closed at the time although we could relax on the benches along the bluff and enjoy the view.
Newport Harbor Light
Finally — and I am as relieved as the audience to get to the last one — I spotted a lighthouse in Newport, Rhode Island completely unexpectedly. This was the Newport Harbor Light, also sometimes called the Goat Island Light (map). It was built in 1842 and automated in 1963. I didn’t check on it much beyond noting how nice it looked sitting in the harbor.
It seemed like I was on the road just yesterday and here I was back out in the wilds once again. This time my wife and I were celebrating a round-numbered wedding anniversary so we headed up to coastal Massachusetts and Rhode Island. I’d been to Boston many times previously however I’d never traveled along the horseshoe of Cap Cod nor to the islands offshore nor to very much of Rhode Island other than the Interstate highways running across it on the way to other places for that matter.
Let’s begin another Twelve Mile Circle multiple-article travelogue by focusing on the seacoasts that approximated my route and then move on to other topics in later installments.
We flew into Boston and drove down to the South Shore community of Hull (map). This was one of the oldest towns in Massachusetts, founded in 1622 as a an outpost for the Plymouth Colony to trade with local native American tribes. I captured this image from Fort Revere Park, a place that served as a military garrison protecting Boston Harbor beginning with the Revolutionary War and lasting all the way through World War II. It seemed so quintessentially New England.
Plymouth was a must. Twelve Mile Circle often delves into history so I simply couldn’t skip this most hallowed of New England locations. The site fell along our route and I’d never been there before. I’ll talk all about the Pilgrim connection in a future installment. I’m fixated on seacoasts for the moment so I’ll stick with those. Plymouth had an awesome breakwater to protect its harbor which I guessed stretched about a half-mile (map). Naturally I had to walk to the very end of it along irregularly spaced granite blocks because that’s what one does when encountering a breakwater. There wasn’t anything particularly remarkable to be found at the end although that was hardly the point.
A 3,500-foot-long stone breakwater. This structure begins at a point north of the town wharf and extends easterly from the shore for 1,400 feet, then turns southeasterly, parallel to the waterfront, for 2,100 feet.
My rough estimate of distance seemed to be pretty close to the mark.
Then we proceeded out along Cape Cod, eventually making it all the way to the tip at Provincetown (map). Much of the shoreline was protected within Cape Cod National Seashore. The cape was created by glaciers as noted by the U.S. Geological Survey.
The geologic history of Cape Cod mostly involves the advance and retreat of the last continental ice sheet (named the Laurentide after the Laurentian region of Canada where it first formed) and the rise in sea level that followed the retreat of the ice sheet. On Cape Cod, these events occurred within the last 25,000 years… Sometime after 23,000 years ago, the glacier reached its maximum advance… The ice sheet was characterized by lobes that occupied large basins in the bedrock surface. These lobes were responsible for the location and overall shape of Cape Cod and the islands.
It also created awesome sandy cliffs and dunes, and amazing beaches.
I’m sure Nantucket had some incredible ocean vistas (map). However most of our stay on the island coincided with the arrival of an oppressively thick fog. The bank seemed to sit directly atop Nantucket, permanently affixed, perfectly clear on the ferryboat ride out to the island and perfectly clear once we left. Nantucket had been dubbed the Gray Lady by mariners of yore because of the fog that often shrouded the island. We experienced the Gray Lady in all of her glory. That was fine, actually. It created a mysterious almost haunting atmosphere as we explored weathered cobblestone streets.
Martha’s Vineyard offered considerably more sunshine to the point where it was downright hot during our brief visit at least for most of the island. The far western edge with its spectacular cliffs was enveloped by clouds and a bitterly cold wind, so oddly disconnected with conditions found elsewhere on the island given the small geographic distance. Those photos didn’t turn out well although there were still plenty of sunny scenes like the one I selected.
We finished our whirlwind tour in Newport, Rhode Island (map). The best coastline in town could be found along its famed Cliff Walk. This path was established as a National Recreation Trail, open to the public. Awesome scenes of ocean waves crashing on rocks far down below the cliff framed one side of the trail. Unbelievably huge mansions lined the other side. These homes were constructed primarily during the Guilded Age of the late 19th Century by some of the biggest names of legendary fortunes like Vanderbilt and Astor. Many of these American castles can be toured as museums.